Kurdish boy amputee granted asylum in Belarus after pleas

Migrants stay in the transport and logistics centre near the Bruzgi border point on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on November 19, 2021
4 min read
21 December, 2021
The refugee crisis at the EU-Belarus border has brought along with it harrowing stories of loss and despair. Many of the hundreds of families are from Iraqi Kurdistan. After multiple pleas, one child amputee has been lucky enough to be given asylum.

Nine-year-old double amputee, Taman, a genial child from Iraq’s Kurdish region, appeared online for the first time on November 16 in a mobile phone recording in which his brother and father appealed to the Portuguese football player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the world, for help. 

The minute long-recording features a happy Taman, modelling his prosthetic limbs, and playing with his 11-year-old brother in the marshy swamps of the borderland, between Poland and Belarus

The urgent plea came at a time of grave uncertainty. The family’s short-lived merriment after safely arriving at the border on November 8 was displaced by the terrifying prospect of being returned to northern Iraq

"No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark"

The family had initially flown to Minsk via Dubai, en route to Germany after a hospital offered to treat Taman’s bone disease which resulted in a bilateral, below-the-knee amputation. 

A hairbreadth is all that stood between the family’s dream of a dignified life for Taman, and the nightmare of deportation — a life sentence that would deprive Taman of the medical care and attention he needs, and the right to live his life as any child his age. 

Behind the reservedly calm demeanour of Taman’s brother, a migrant crisis was brewing along the forested, securitised Belarus-Polish border. 

As the world debated whether to raise the drawbridge or release the gates of fortress Europa, the nightmarish scenario of deportation inched closer for the Taman family. 

European-based news outlets and social media accounts at the time spun a war of words, weaponising the term “migrant,” and depicting families fleeing war and poverty as  “criminals.”

Notwithstanding this demonisation, many commentators noted that those discourse had failed to erase the memory of foreign policy blunders that have shaken every Iraqi family — Arabic, Kurdish or otherwise, in one way or another.

On December 5, a photograph published on Twitter purportedly showed Taman at Minsk airport, awaiting deportation, mask-clad, thumb-twiddling, with a glazed look of fear in his eyes. 

Perspectives

A source close to the family told The New Arab that the family had on the same day been forcibly removed by Belarus servicemen and transported to the airport to await “repatriation”. 

Days earlier, on November 24, the spokesperson of the Polish Border Guard, Anna Michalska, reported having documented 36,00o attempts of migrants illegally crossing into Poland.

Some 2, 500 were detained, and 200 were repatriated, mainly to Iraq.

Others were less fortunate

Privately-owned Kurdish outlet, al-Shafaq reported on November 19 that a 25-year-old migrant had died from “cold and hunger” as a result of severe weather conditions endured by migrants that set up shanty encampments dotting the borderline. 

On the same day, 430 other people had been repatriated to northern Iraq, some of whom had embarked on the same perilous journey multiple times before. 

"While many families from Iraq’s Kurdish region have been returned home, and many more will no doubt re-attempt to flee, fewer and luckier families, like Taman’s, have embarked upon the long road towards resettlement"

The logic that fuels this catch-22 loop is best described by British Somali poet Warsan Shire who states that “no one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark”. 

A source close to the family told The New Arab that humanitarian workers had been helping the family, and acting as interlocutors between them and authorities, and with that, the family successfully fought the deportation order, which Belarus eventually revoked on December 6. 

The family is currently residing in the capital, Minsk, waiting for their family asylum claim to be processed. 

On December 2, the European Council announced its decision to impose sanctions on high-ranking political officials of the Lukashenko government Belavia Airlines, tour operators and hotels who they said had incited and organised illegal border activity and “instrumentalised” the migrant crisis for political gain. 

In retaliation to EU sanctions, the government of Belarus has introduced a ban on western commodities and introduced other restrictive measures targeted at UK and EU airlines. 

While many families from Iraq’s Kurdish region have been returned home, and many more will no doubt re-attempt to flee, fewer and luckier families, like Taman’s, have embarked upon the long road towards resettlement where they will lay down new roots and live in peace and harmony. 

Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq's ancient history and contemporary political scene